The NRF-South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (NRF-SAIAB) made an indelible mark at the 7th International Conference of the Pan African Fish and Fisheries Association (PAFFA) in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), held from 18 – 22 September 2023. Seven NRF-SAIAB researchers provided oral presentations of their work, and two poster presentations were on display for the duration of the conference. Three outstanding NRF-SAIAB members; Tadiwa Mutizwa (Zimbabwe), Graça Mandava Jaime (Mozambique) and Christian Mukweze Mulelenu (DR Congo) emerged as student-award recipients for their exceptional presentations; highlighting the excellence of SAIAB’s research work and impact on the study of ‘African Fish and Fisheries: Diversity, Conservation and Sustainable Management’.
SAIAB’s participation at the PAFFA
SAIAB’s active participation in the esteemed PAFFA conference underscored the Institute’s unwavering commitment to advancing the field of aquatic biology and fisheries within the African continent.
Tadiwa Mutizwa’s research focused on the species diversity and geographic distribution of freshwater fish from three genera found in southern Africa; snoutfishes in the genus Heteromormyrus, suckermouth catfishes in the genus Chiloglanis and robbers in the genus Brycinus. One of the most important findings of his research revealed solid and integrative evidence about the hidden species diversity in each of those fish families.
Graça Mandava’s ground-breaking work was directed at providing the first overall biodiversity survey of the freshwater fishes of the Gorongosa National Park, situated at the heart of Central Mozambique. One of the most important findings of her research was genetic differentiation between some samples of fish collected from the Park along with those from Zambezi, and Pungwe systems. These results emphasize the need to document the biodiversity of aquatic fauna not only in the Park, but also in Mozambique, and can support decision-making for better management of the aquatic biodiversity in one of Africa’s iconic National Parks.
Christian Mukweze’s presentation focused on the electric organ discharges of two African mormyrid fishes (Mormyridae), i.e., Cyphomyrus lufirae and Heteromormyrus tavernei, found in the middle Lufira Basin in the upper Congo Basin (DR Congo). The research provides unique insights into the adaptability of the electric discharges produced at the level of the caudal peduncle (tail) in these weakly electric fishes. This provides new insights as to how these conductivity-related signals might influence the formation of new species, and thus might also provide evidence for hidden species diversity in this family.
Celebrating the awardees
Tadiwa expressed his excitement and gratitude for the recognition, stating that participating in the PAFFA conference was a remarkable experience. “We were literally rubbing shoulders with highly respected and leading global researchers who are an inspiration to us as early career researchers. Receiving this award is truly an honour and a testament to the hard work of our research team.”
Graça, equally thrilled by the recognition, shared her thoughts on the importance of such conferences. “It was the first time that a representative from Mozambique attended this international conference, so presenting my research as a person from Mozambique and winning a prize means a lot to me – it means I’ve put my country on an important global platform”, she noted.
Christian stated that following his initial involvement in the 2023 annual conference of the Southern African Society for Aquatic Scientists and the positive atmosphere within the SAIAB team, he was fully prepared and energized for the PAFFA conference. “Receiving this award is not only a great satisfaction for me, but I am also extremely proud to have made the whole team of world fish experts happy, including Dr Albert Chakona, whom I had met at the previous PAFFA 6 conference in Malawi”.
Expressing his pride, Dr Albert Chakona, the (co)supervisor of these accomplished researchers, stated, “It was a special moment, these awards speak volumes about the quality of the [collaborative] work we are doing and that our work meets international standards. These awards give students the confidence to know that the value of their work is recognised in such spaces.”
In addition, the PAFFA conference also allowed further bridges to be built between research groups. For example, Graça’s talk incited collaboration with Pacifique Kiwele Mutambala (UNILU, Lubumbashi, DR Congo), another award winning participant of the PAFFA conference, to jointly study Kneriidae behaviour and diversity. This potential project would include both NRF-SAIAB and the Royal Museum for Central Africa (Belgium).
As the PAFFA conference concludes, NRF-SAIAB looks ahead with renewed determination, poised to continue its mission of documenting and safeguarding Africa’s aquatic biodiversity. With such dedicated emerging African researchers at the helm, a solid, locally integrated, future of aquatic biology and fishery sciences in the region shines brighter than ever.